industry insider | Mar 23, 2020 |
What to say in a crisis: The best advice from PR pros on how to communicate now

There’s no shortage of big, world-shifting news happening at the moment, but many designers (and the companies who sell to them) are rightfully wondering: How best to keep calm and carry on? And once we’re doing that, how to get the word out? Business of Home reached out to a few design PR pros to find out what advice they’re giving clients about how to communicate in the midst of a pandemic.

A good place to start? Digital assets—striking photos, compelling video—are king. On some level, that’s nothing new, but given the mass cancellation of in-person shopping and events in the near future, what’s happening online is all that’s happening.

“I’ve always preached to my clients that the most valuable thing you have are digital assets,” says Christina Juarez, an experienced design industry PR adviser. “Long before this crisis, the reason was that magazine budgets were getting cut, so they weren’t always shooting product—or even reshooting interiors. Now it has a whole new level of meaning.”

The social distancing measures in place in New York and California—where most design media is produced—have created a strain on magazines beyond financial cost-cutting. For the time being, editors and art directors simply can’t get out to shoot for their upcoming summer issues. As a result, designers and brands who have great images are getting greenlit. “All of my clients who had digital assets ready to go are getting published,” says Juarez. “If you find yourself without great images right now, try to find a safe way to get them.”

Imagery is also crucial for communicating inside your network. You may have noticed that you’ve heard from a wide variety of brands over the past couple weeks, all checking in. “Many email communications have already gone out; the stronger ones have a strong leading visual with a simple, clear service message such as, ‘We are working from home, and open for business,’” says Ellen Niven, a principal at NivenBreen. “[Follow that] with specifics to a clear call to action, such as, ‘Contact customer service at this number and email this person for this service.’ Attentive personal customer service during a difficult time builds strong relationships for the future and retains customers.”

Even if our inboxes are all taking a hit, it’s important to get the message out that you’re up and running, says Byron Cordero, a PR consultant—otherwise, the assumption is that you’re not. As much as possible, that message should be substantive, he advises. Ironic for a time of isolation, Cordero sees now as the perfect time for partnerships—starting with local charities, but including business collabs as well.

“Now is the time to connect with your partners. If you’re running a shop or a showroom, connect with your vendors to do Instagram takeovers, interview each other, let everyone know that you’re working together to operate,” he says. “By keeping in touch, you can negotiate what brands are willing to offer as a special added value during this time, like discounts or free shipping.”

That applies to designers as well, says Cordero. “This is their opportunity to connect with brands on a local level. One of our clients connected with a local stone maker who is panicking and so he advised his clients to buy slabs in bulk (and get a discount) that they can store and use later on since they’ll need [the material for their projects] anyway,” he says. “This helps keep small guys in business.”

All the pros we spoke to also advised clients to keep an eye on the big picture: This is an unprecedented time, there are serious issues at play, and the most important thing to do is make sure everyone is healthy. While the world feels chaotic right now, things will calm down, and it’s best to think positive. “We can either say to our clients, ‘This sucks, it’s horrible,’ or we can say, ‘Here are the tactics so that we can do everything we can,’” says Juarez. “I am telling my clients: ‘Let’s start with a solution here.’”

One optimistic sign: Despite the rapid pace of change and daunting circumstances, the consultants we spoke with said that, from home offices and on Zoom conference calls, business was humming along. Juarez, who started her business just before 9/11, draws a distinction between then and now. “[After 9/11] things just stopped,” she says. “Now, people are working, getting used to it.”

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